With President Barack Obama in Williamsburg preparing for Tuesday night’s debate against Republican rival Mitt Romney, Obama aides took time today to speak with Virginia reporters about the debate, the state of the race and key issues in the closing weeks of the campaign.
Virginia remains one of a handful of critical battleground states with three weeks remaining in the race. Romney will return to the state Wednesday with stops in Chesapeake and Leesburg. Obama will campaign in Fairfax County on Friday.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said today that Obama has reviewed tape of his Oct. 3 debate with Romney – a debate that helped boost Romney’s poll numbers – and “is very energized about having a good performance tomorrow night.”
“His performance at the debate is certainly a factor, but it’s not the only factor,” Psaki told reporters today at Obama’s Virginia campaign headquarters in Richmond. “The people who are making their decisions about who to vote for or who to support are thinking about who is going to be a better fighter for them and who’s right on the issues that they care deeply about.”
Campaign appearances and ads also are important to communicating that message, Psaki said.
Obama carried Virginia in 2008, the first Democrat in 44 years to win the state’s presidential electoral votes. But most polls have the 2012 race in a virtual dead heat, with Romney gaining ground since the first debate and edging ahead in some surveys.
In Virginia, Romney and the state’s top Republicans have made a concerted effort to blame Obama for automatic defense spending cuts that could be triggered in January under bipartisan legislation that Congress passed in 2011 to increase the federal debt limit. The Budget Control called for a congressional “supercommittee” to come up with a long-term plan to reduce the deficit and for automatic spending cuts to occur if the panel failed.
The spending cuts will begin to take effect in January unless Congress and the White House come up with a deal to avert the fiscal cliff. The defense cuts could have a significant impact on Virginia’s economy.
“I think many of us supported those last August because they averted a worse scenario, which is a meltdown and an international crisis because we defaulted on our obligation,” said Gov. Bob McDonnell, a top Romney surrogate, on MSNBC ‘s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” today (the full interview is posted below). “But the point is after the supercommittee failed. . . I think it would take the leadership of a president to say, in a time of war, we cannot reduce this level of funding a trillion dollars over 10 years to our men and women in uniform.”
McDonnell, by the way, will be in Long Island Tuesday night working the post-debate spin room on Romney’s behalf.
Psaki noted that “Democrats and Republicans both voted for the trigger package.”
“And the thing about the trigger is you don’t want to pull it,” Psaki said. “And the president certainly doesn’t want to reach the point where we are putting in place these cuts. “
Psaki said Obama favors a balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes spending cuts, entitlement reforms and additional revenue. She said the gridlock exists because Republicans refuse to consider higher taxes for the wealthy.
“What they’re basically saying is that they will not put revenue on the table,” Psaki said. “The translation to that is tax increases for the highest income. And the president feels revenue has to absolutely be on the table, and that people who are halting it are saying preventing tax increases for millionaires and billionaires is more important than preventing these cuts to our defense and military programs , and to some of our other programs like Medicaid and Medicare that other people rely on on the other side.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney, who spoke by phone, added this: “One way to frame it, which I think is quite fair, is to say Republicans who oppose balance are willing to see draconian cuts in defense spending rather than ask billionaires and millionaires to pay a little bit more. They’re willing to see draconian cuts in domestic spending programs — in education, innovation and border security and other areas — rather than ask millionaires and billionaires to pay a little more, to pay only what they were paying under Bill Clinton, when we had record job growth and a record economic expansion.”
Psaki also was asked about the battle the two campaigns are waging over coal, a major issue in Southwest Virginia and in parts of the battleground state of Ohio. Republicans, on the stump and in campaign ads, have portrayed Obama as an enemy of the coal industry because of environmental regulations enacted by his administration. Obama’s campaign is airing an ad depicting Romney as anti-coal. The spot includes footage of Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, standing outside a coal-fired power plant and declaring, “I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people and that plant, that plant kills people.”
“When he was in Massachusetts he said coal plants kill people and his record is pretty clear,” Psaki said today. “If that’s a friend of the coal industry, then who needs friends?. So I think it’s an issue where the president thinks there are a number of different energy resources that need to be invested in, need to be a part of our strategy. Clean coal is one of them. “
“I think we’re going to continue to point out to people in Southwest Virginia and people in Ohio who are part of the coal industry and who care deeply about the coal industry that Mitt Romney is not friend of theirs,” Psaki said.
– Michael Sluss